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Supreme Court rules Florida death sentence case unconstitutional

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(CNN)The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the process used to condemn a Florida death row inmate was unconstitutional because a judge rather than a jury was the final arbiter of fact in sentencing, opening the door to further challenges in death penalty cases in Florida and elsewhere.

The 8-1 ruling came in a challenge filed by death row inmate Timothy Lee Hurst, 37, convicted of murdering restaurant co-worker Cynthia Harrison, who was bound, gagged, and stabbed more than 60 times in 1998.

A jury recommended a death sentence for Hurst, but it was the judge who held a separate hearing and determined there were sufficient aggravating circumstances to impose the death penalty, the high court said.

“We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional,” the ruling said. “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury’s recommendation is not enough.”

The decision could open the door to other sentencing challenges from many of Florida’s 385 men and five women now on death row, who together represent more 10% of the nation’s approximate 3,000 convicts awaiting execution, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and legal experts.

Read more at CNN.

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